‘West Memphis Three’ Released from Prison
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — better known as the “West Memphis Three” — were released from prison Friday after entering first-degree murder pleas for the 1993 deaths of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, a small community just outside Memphis, Tennessee.
In a somewhat confusing arrangement with prosecutors, the men entered the guilty pleas while maintaining their innocence and were sentenced to time served and a 10-year suspended sentence.
They were convicted in 1994 of killing 8-year-old friends Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore and leaving their bound bodies in a watery West Memphis ditch. At the time, the killings were thought to be ritualistic Satanic sacrifices which Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin confessed to carrying out.
But in the years after their convictions, questions began to swirl about the method in which those confessions were obtained, as well as the motives of the judges and police officers involved in the arrests and subsequent trials.
The men have since said they are innocent, and supporters — including Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and actor Johnny Depp — have cited conflicting DNA evidence in the movement to have them freed. Even the victims’ parents are split, with some believing the right men were in prison for the crimes, and others feeling an injustice was served.
Two HBO documentaries, ‘Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills’ and ‘Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,’ brought widespread attention to the case.
Vedder and Maines were among the spectators allowed into the courtroom for Friday’s announcement that the trio will be freed. Previously, Echols was on death row, while Misskelley and Baldwin were serving life sentences.